Real Faith in a Virtual Reality: Exploring the Intersection of Faith and Online Gaming

Internship Project Proposal

Name: Chris

Congregation: St John’s By the Gas Station

Project Area (check one)
Ecumenism
Evangelism
Social Ministry
Lay Ministry
Stewardship
Other X

What was your rationale for choosing this area?

A few assumptions:

  • God’s voice echoes in the whole world, not only in the church, reverberating off walls secular and sacred.
  • Church members are active in many things, the church being only one of them.
  • Clergy-types and the institutional church can too often get cocooned in their own narrow world, failing to listen for God’s voice or support the faith experience of church members beyond the church doors.

Confident that God’s voice echoes in the world which lies beyond our church doors, my project proposes to build a bridge between one corner of the “secular” world and the faith and practice of the Christian church.

In terms of the above categories, this project can be viewed in the perspective of lay ministry, as it will invite church members to reflect and act on their faith in new ways, or in the perspective of evangelism, as it will provide the church with a framework for articulating and living its faith in new ways to the broader culture.  As I say below, this project is part cultural analysis and part faith reflection for the purposes of enhancing the mission of the church.

Specific Title of Project:

Real Faith in a Virtual Reality: Exploring the Intersection of Faith and Online Gaming

Plan of Work & Project Outcome:

Online gaming and virtual reality – from Halo 3 to Second Life to the relatively benign world of blogging – provide individuals with unique opportunities to express themselves, explore (and re-create) identity, and develop relationships and communities that challenge our embedded, pre-internet notions of how people relate and express their identity.  Except for perhaps some knee-jerk condemnations, the Church has largely not paid much attention to the world of online gaming and virtual reality.  Yet sales of Halo 3 made more money in its first day than did any other entertainment release in history – including any of the Spiderman movies or Harry Potter books.  Through a number of books and websites Christians have explored the ways faith is reflected in popular movies and music including, The Gospel According to Harry Potter and The Gospel According to The Simpsons.  Little has been done to explore faith and online gaming, despite its popularity.  More than 1 million Xbox users went online to play Halo 3 on its first day of release.  This is an important phenomenon to which the church should pay its attention.

Moreover, online gaming is largely the domain of men, young and old, a demographic that is underrepresented in our churches.  Even at St John’s by the Gas Station, where I observe that a higher proportion of men and boys are involved in congregational life than in my previous congregations, most of the “hobby-oriented” fellowship and service activities – from knitting and quilting to scrapbooking – are dominated by women.  A special focus given to online gaming provides a unique outlet for the men of this congregation, young and old, to gather for fellowship and faithful reflection.

My plan is to foster a conversation between the church and the world of online gaming for the purposes of helping the church better understand online gaming, and helping Christians who are online gaming fans reflect on this hobby in terms of their faith.  Part cultural analysis – the online gaming world represents, in a sense, a distinct culture – and part faithful reflection, this project will:

ENGAGE & EXPLORE (ie, what is online gaming?)

  • engage youth and adult church members who play online virtual reality games to teach me and other curious church members about this phenomenon
  • begin to define the nature of online gaming
  • explore and analyze what online gamers get from the experience; that is, what personal, social, psychological need – beyond entertainment – is fulfilled by online gaming that cannot be filled by another activity?
  • three or four gatherings at church and/or in homes
  • during the month of January

REFLECT (ie, what does the world of online gaming have to say to the church? What is similar, what is different?)

  • continue to define the nature of online gaming
  • facilitate conversation and reflection regarding the nature of online gaming in terms of their faith and the beliefs and practices of the Christian Church
  • identify and articulate aspects of the Christian faith which compare and contrast to online gaming
  • three or four gatherings at church and/or in homes
  • during the month of February

CONNECT (ie, how might the perspective and opportunities unique to online gaming enhance how we do ministry in the “real” world?)

  • identify possible intersections of online gaming and the church’s ministry that go beyond the simple “gaming nights” that some churches use as a hook to attract young people;
  • three or four gatherings at church and/or in homes
  • during the month of March

PRESENT

  • present reflections and conclusions in a series of intergenerational Sunday School sessions;
  • one to three intergenerational gatherings
  • during the month of April

GIVE

  • give to this congregation a model for engaging members’ passions to enrich and further the mission of the church.
  • Write a final report outlining our method and its successes and shortcomings, with the hope that our exploration of online gaming and faith can serve as a model for exploring the intersection of culture and faith with other media or interests.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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